It’s hard to get excited over recent approaches by fish cannery giant Star Kist to set up a loining facility at possibly, the now largely abandoned harbor at Asau.
After all, it’s not the first time Star Kist and similar other fish processing companies have approached government on like ventures over the years.
There was usually a lot of talk, a lot of scoping and preparations by government, but in the end, the company representatives leave our shores never to be heard of again.
Many in government then could be forgiven for being cynical given this past experience. After all, what makes this latest approach any different?
But government, which has to be supportive and facilitative of any initiative that potentially, will provide jobs and business particularly for the rural communities, has to give Star Kist the benefit of the doubt. In fact, we all have to give Star Kist the benefit of the doubt. The kind of operation Star Kist is sounding off is expected to provide some 1200 jobs at Asau, an area largely devoid of any economic activity. Well not since the lumber boom of the 1970s.
A loining facility then could potentially be a catalyst for economic development in this part of the country.
According to Deputy Prime Minister Misa Telefoni, at full operation, the facility will require the doubling of electricity capacity on the whole island. Bumping up water consumption by up to 150 percent.
Like all new, or revived, economies, it starts with a construction boom. Especially in public utilities and infrastructure.
More power generation means, perhaps, a new power plant. New water collection and reticulation capacities, better telecommunications services and expansive road infrastructure development.
Certainly an upgrade of the wharf there, a slipway, and of course a good and reliable airport.
With employment comes opportunity for business. Hotels, motels, car rental companies, bussing and taxi services, gas stations and development in the entertainment sector – bars, nightclubs and yes, perhaps a casino.
But Star Kist should not be allowed to walk in, create a monopoly and take absolute advantage of it.
It’s not economically healthy to put eggs in one basket and government has to look at ways to diversify, thus sustain, the Asau economy in the long term.
Tourism, reviving the timber industry, agriculture, food processing and attracting over garment industry – given that the infrastructure will be availoable – are just a few of many potential options.
In the coming weeks, they (Star Kist) will bandy around words like attractive wages, a flexible tax system, a friendly legal environment and favourable investment incentives if they do make. All this add up to is, exploitation.
Government has to have the legislative provisions in place that will protect the best interests of the worker. But not too prohibitive to scare away foreign investment. Star Kist has to comply with strict, but not too onerous, environment guidelines. The key words here are cost and compliance. Government is tasked with the balancing act of making sure Star Kist complies with the law and that the law is reasonable in that it does not unreasonably drive up the company’s costs. The bottom line – of course is – Star Kist if it eventuates, will be here to make money.
It’s up to government to lead the way in how we benefit from Star Kist’s profit-focus fish loining venture.